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San Antonio Current: Gov. Abbott issues order allowing just one mail-in-ballot drop-off location per Texas county

October 1, 2020

In an order billed as a bid to maintain election integrity, Gov. Greg Abbott ruled that Texas counties can only operate one location to collect completed mail ballots, forcing some urban areas to shutter as many as 11.

What's more, Abbott's proclamation tells counties they must allow poll watchers to "observe any activity conducted at the early voting clerk's office" related to ballots being dropped off.

"These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting," Abbott said in a press release.

The Republican governor's rhetoric clings to a frequent — and unfounded — GOP claim that absentee voting results in widespread voter fraud. It also appears to line up with President Donald Trump's similarly spurious claims that Democrats are using mail-in voting to throw the election.

Democrats and voting-rights groups blasted Abbott's order as another attempt at suppression by a state with a long and painful history of disenfranchising poor and minority voters.

“With this outrageous act of voter suppression, Abbott shows his real concern is not drop boxes, but more and more voters dropping Trump and his enablers. Trump attacks mailboxes; Abbott attacks drop boxes," U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-San Antonio and Austin, said in an emailed statement. "Just as he previously ignored medical science, overruling local leaders and exposing Texans to virus dangers, he is now restricting an opportunity to vote safely.”

The order means the Houston area will need to close 11 ballot drop-off sites and Austin must shutter three, according to media reports. Critics charge that having a single location in a major metropolitan area or a county covering a large geographical area is unworkable.

Bexar County has thus far only accepted ballot deliveries at its downtown headquarters, but that site is already experiencing heavy traffic.

"It's been super packed and crowded," Bexar County Elections Department spokeswoman Donna Parker said.

Abbott's move comes a day after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas shouldn't be required to reinstate single-party voting, which was eliminated under a 2017 bill passed by the legislature.

A panel of three judges — all appointed by Republican President George W. Bush — ruled that the alteration shouldn't be permitted weeks before polls open because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that "courts should not alter election rules on the eve of an election.”

“Republicans are on the verge of losing, so Gov. Abbott is trying to adjust the rules last minute. Courts all over the country, including the Fifth Circuit yesterday, have held that it is too late to change election rules, but our failed Republican leadership will try anyway," Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilbert Hinjosa said in an emailed statement. "Make no mistake, Democracy itself is on the ballot. Every Texan must get out and vote these cowards out!"